Back to the Shadows from Whence it Came

CWAL Prime Date: Mid May 2000
Realm of Evil Invasion, first story, immediately after Adrien's first Realm of Evil story.
--------------------------------------------------------
Recruiting
Part 1

Scene: A silver jaguar, outside CWAL Headquarters. A well-dressed individual is sipping a martini, shaken, not stirred, of course, while watching the World is Not Enough on a view screen inside the vehicle.

SM_007: Ah . . . *sips martini* Nothing beats the life of a CWALer . . .

SM_007 bolts upright when he hears a small dull thud. He looks around to see nothing unusual, the guards in front of the Blizzard compound are just doing nothing effective, as usual, and the Starbucks accross the street is . . . well . . . as normal as one could call it. Morpher X2 sits on the front porch with a stopwatch.

Morpher X2 *shouting*: Come on, El Caz! You have to do better than that to stay here in . . . um . . . what is this school called again?

El Cazador *while coming around the corner*: Colegio Wellington *wheeze* de Artes y Literatura.

Morpher X2 *slaps himself in the forehead*: Right I knew that. In the Wellington College of Arts and Literature . . . *stops the watch as El Cazador passes the porch* Not TOO bad . . . do jumping jacks until I get back. *walks in the door*

El Cazador: Ergh . . . *starts*

It's now when SM_007 finally remarks who made that sound. A large insectoid is sitting next to him in the car. He jumps.

SM_007: Dah! I STILL don't know all the CWALers, evidently. You are? And how did you pull that off?

▀etaMantis: Stealth training . . . my name is ▀etaMantis, I am not a CWALer, I am a COTSer. Anyway, would you be willing to go on a small adventure with me to Siberia?

SM_007: Sure, wait, isn't COTS a strict military group devoted to stopping CWAL?

▀etaMantis: Hardly. COTS is decoted to making sure games are DONE PROPERLY before CWAL gets it and remains intact, that's all.

▀etaMantis explains Adrien showing up and giving him "The One Spring Of Power".

Flashback Scene: Irvine Street

▀etaMantis stands in the street, as Adrien leaves, holding "The One Spring Of Power" in hand, examining it.

▀etaMantis: This looks like a pretty rusty spring to me . . .

He shrugs, and walks down the street thinking of people to take with him to Siberia. But first, he thinks, one call. In the belt around his waist, lies many pouches, he opens one and finds a telephone.

▀etaMantis: Captain ▀etaMantis, Security and Armed Division, to Commander-in-Chief Magni.

Magni *over phone*: Yes, Beta?

▀etaMantis: Sir, requesting leave for a couple of days for a side mission of utmost importance to the Shadowlands. I have been requested to aid CE/UF.

Magni *ponders for a couple moments*: Sure, but be back in HQ in forty-eight hours, no later. Magni, Commander-in-Chief, out.

End Flashback

SM_007: Hmmmmm . . . well, as matter of fact, I even have access to a plane for you!

▀etaMantis: Great, I'll meet you in a hour at the roof? *gestures to CWAL HQ*

SM_007 nods, the moment he does, ▀etaMantis leaps clear out of the vehicle, over SM_007, and walks over to El Cazador. SM_007 goes back to drinking and watching movies.

El Cazador: And I thought I'd seen everything. You are?

▀etaMantis: Mr. Beta, your substitute arts and literature teacher.

El Cazador: Is that beta, as in the Greek letter? But why isn't Mr. Morpher teaching today?

▀etaMantis: It is precisely, and he needs days off, respectively.

El Cazador: *scratches his head a second in thought* Ok, fine when does class start?

▀etaMantis: In one hour on the roof of the school.

El Cazador: Fine, I will be there, Mr. Beta.

▀etaMantis: You can stop doing jumping jacks, it is lunch time.

El Cazador: *panting* Good, for a second there, I was thinking you weren't going to say that. . .

All of a sudden, a screaming, I mean actually screaming, both as in a reference to speed and well, emitting I high pitched squeal, rubber band flies out of the front door of CWAL . . .

Taion: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!

. . . hitting El Caz sqaurely in the head.

El Cazador: Ow, my glasses! Who did this?

A man in a yellow suit walks out. A lambda is clearly etched in a dark grey on the from of his suit.

McGravin: I did.

▀etaMantis merely smiles. He had found who he wants.

▀etaMantis: El Cazador, go inside and eat your lunch.

El Cazador nods and dutifully trudges indoors. McGravin picks up Taion, and makes his way to ▀etaMantis.

▀etaMantis: You two, come here.

McGravin: So I finally meet you. You must be ▀etaMantis . . . newest addition to COTS' Irvine division.

▀etaMantis: I am. I am here to attempt to dispel the Shadowlands.

Taion: *gasps* The SHADOWLANDS!? Interesting . . . but very risky.

▀etaMantis: *his large eyes focus and narrow on Taion* And life in Crystal's room is any less?

Flashback Scene: Crystal's room

Crystal is flinging various rubber bands around here room out of a small box. Taion is grabbed from the box, kicking and screaming . . . ok, only screaming, and flinged across the room, then she goes, picks up the rubber bands and Taion, and repeats . . . again . . . and again . . . and again . . .

Taion: *shudders, as well as a rubber band can* I see your point. What would I do to help you?

McGravin: And I?

▀etaMantis: Well, McGravin, you will help with long range assault possibilities. Taion, you could be useful for assorted details. Besides, you never know when a rubber band may come in handy! It also gets you out of Crystal's room . . .

Taion: I see. I will go with you.

McGravin: What have I got to lose?

▀etaMantis *smiling as well as one of his anatomy can*: Nothing. Meet me on the roof of CWAL headquarters in one hour.

Scene: CWAL HQ Roof, one hour later.

SM_007 leans against his loaned private VTOL jet on the helipad of CWAL HQ.

McGravin, Taion, and El Cazador are also atop the CWAL Roof, lounging and lunging about, awaiting ▀etaMantis. McGravin jumps, as he feels someone tap him on his shoulder. ▀etaMantis greets them.

▀etaMantis: Well, class, we are off to Siberia, also known as the Shadowlands for a renactment of the Lord of the Rings. Except, due to budget constraints we substitute the One Spring of Power. We will travel to the Shadowlands and throw the Spring into Mount Despair.

His four cohorts nod their unnecessary approval.

▀etaMantis: Everyone in. SM, can you pilot this thing?

SM_007: Absolutely. *starts up the throttle, starts talking in that typical "welcome to your flight" speech* Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. . .

▀etaMantis: I am the captain here!

SM_007: Ok . . . *resumes his normal, pre-flight spiel* Would everyone please make sure that your seats are in their upright and locked positions and that your . . .

Taion: MUST you!?

SM_007: No. Alright, folks, next stop: Shadowlands.

As the jet left contact with the building, McGravin was checking his trusty Tau cannon, crowbar, his shotgun and his pistol, Taion was romping around the Christmas tree have a . . . no wait, wrong idea. He was romping around practicing his swordsplay, with a toothpick (as usual). El Cazador was busy drawing, probably still enthralled of the idea of learning about J.R.R. Tolkein's book.

▀etaMantis sat in troubled thought about where in Siberia Mount Despair could be. He had an idea . . .

--------------------------------------------------------

The Truth Is Out There
Part 2

A couple of hours after their arrival in Ex-Siberia, the five are making their way on foot. They have yet to perceive difficulties. Weirdly enough, as ▀etaMantis risked a quick survey of Nighteye's citadel for tactical flaws and guard routines, nothing unusual happened. After several more hours plodding the contryside, the five stand in front of a volcano . . .

El Cazador, sketching away: This is still pretty close to what I envision of Mordor . . .

SM_007: How many volcanos ARE there in Siberia?

▀etaMantis: To my knowledge . . . but one.

Taion: . . . Mount Despair.

McGravin: Are we going to stand here, or are we going to finish this!?

El Cazador *busy sketching away*: One second, I want to finish this scene . . .

McGravin, sighing: Fine, I'll wait, what could possibly be out there anyways?

SM_007: Don't you realise what you have done!?

McGravin: What!?

▀etaMantis: Do you hear something beating rapidly, most likely thin and long?

El Cazador, sketching still: No, not really.

McGravin *absorbed in his readings*: Hmmmmmm, my HUD states the temperature is abnormally high, the humidity to be abnormally low, the pressure about normal, a little higher actually . . . *points* now that's a large insect!

Taion: Um, McGravin, we already know "Mr. Beta" is.

McGravin: No, no, behind him!

The other four turn to note five large, hungry mosquitos flying straight for them.

▀etaMantis *smirks*: One advantage of chitin, these mosquitos cannot bug me.

McGravin: My suit has the same effect, horrible pun, by the way.

Taion: A similar benefit of my current form . . .

El Cazador: Good thing I was prepared, eh? I brought insect repellent!

SM_007 *grumbles*: Where's Q Branch when you need it?

▀etaMantis *smirking*: No wonder I cannot stand to get near you . . . one question . . . can insect repellant, an HEV suit, or my chitinous exoskeleton protect against a two foot probiscis?

McGravin and El Caz shake their heads horizontally.

▀etaMantis: Didn't think so. Then I suggest we duck out of the way, immediately!

It's about this time the arthoropods close the distance. Each attack one of the five foreigners. The first and foremost swoops at ▀etaMantis, who leaps, delivering a pair of claw strikes to the immense mosquito's wings, severing them, and causing it to to fly head first into the damp land below the impenetrable fog. An attacker hovers above Taion, attempting to dissuade him from living by stabbing at him with his needle-like probiscis. Taion manages to get himself on the creature's weapon without being speared. He wraps himself around it and draws his trusty splinter of wood.

McGravin swats another overgrown nuisance with his crowbar. He turns to see the fourth mosquito drop to a near-silent gunshot of SM_007's PP7. The battle between Taion and his opponent ends as Taion stabs his toothpick into the nose of the creature, causing it to spurt a yellow liquid and plummet to the moisture-laden earth.

The final mosquito dives for the near helpless El Cazador. He dives out of the way, just keeping a hold on his sketchbook. Now sitting, he looks up, to see ▀etaMantis with a mosquito's thin thorax twisted around thrice by two of his available hands. He puts out a hand, then retracts it and recoils a bit, almost as if in pain.

▀etaMantis: I would be delighted to help you up, but that insect repellent is irritating.

SM_007 *coughs*: Sure it isn't the air?

El Cazador *smiling*: Thanks anyway.

▀etaMantis: Yes, I am quite over the air.

El Cazador: You guys sure went all out with this reenactment.

▀etaMantis: We aim to please at the Collegiate Of Technology Schools.

El Cazador: Where?

▀etaMantis: A more private, reclusive and demanding string of schools around the world. One where I usually teach, El Caz . . .

SM_007 and McGravin exchange glances of minor amusement.

▀etaMantis: . . . many students, less . . . gifted in technology attend schools like that you attend, the Wellington College, for the arts.

The glances change to minor annoyance.

El Cazador: How interesting. This school chain I have not heard of.

▀etaMantis: That would be because this organisation, COTS, seeks out its own members, as opposed to the other way around that is typical of educational institutions.

El Cazador nods his understanding while the other three attempt to prevent themselves from laughing.

▀etaMantis: Shall we proceed, gentlemen?

The others nod.

El Cazador: I am happy with this drawing. *shows the drawing, almost a perfect replica of the surrounding scenery, to the others*

McGravin: Damn, that's good.

SM_007: Wow, that's absolutely amazing.

Taion: Your redefine the term artist.

▀etaMantis: Excuse me!

McGravin, SM_007 and Taion grumble a bit.

▀etaMantis: Taion, wrap yourself about my wrist.

Taion: Which one?

▀etaMantis: Any one. McGravin and SM_007, you have climbing tools, correct?

McGravin: No . . .

SM_007, opening his suit overcoat to reveal an ensemble of pitons and rope: I WAS prepared for that, I have enough for the two of us . . . and what about Sir Kickass?

▀etaMantis: He shall ride on my back . . . unless he wishes to scale the mountain's face?

El Cazador, shaking his head: How can I refuse an offer to climb a mountain in a country of total evil on the back of an overgrown insect!? *shakes his pencil for emphasis*

Taion, finishing off wrapping himself around ▀etaMantis' wrist and watching El Cazador's pencil: You have a point, but at least you are on his back . . . this is not going to be pleasant for me.

▀etaMantis: Be positive, I possess the ability to force you to climb.

The five begin to climb, ▀etaMantis' speed greatly hampered by his two passengers. He manages to just stay ahead of the SM_007 and McGravin. ▀etaMantis first makes it to the rim of the volcano. As he squats to let his passengers stop, he removes the One Spring of Power from one of his many pouches attached to his belt. He spends a moment examining the oxidised simple machine, then dangles it over the edge of the centre of the volcano.

Voice: You will stop where you are if you value your life.

El Cazador slides off ▀etaMantis on to the ground and breaks out his sketchbook, and begins drawing the tense seen. McGravin and SM_007 can be heard shouting incomprehensible things from the side of the volcano.

▀etaMantis, thinking: What the . . . ? I SWEAR I have heard that voice! Why can I not put a name to it?

▀etaMantis turns to face the being who owns the voice . . .

--------------------------------------------------------

Looking into the Mirror
Part 3

▀etaMantis makes it to the summit of the byproduct of tectonic activity that is Mount Despair. As he bends down to let his passengers get off, he takes the One Spring of Power from one of his belt pouches. He spends a moment narvelling at it, then dangles it over the lava inside the volcano.

Voice: You will stop where you are if you value your life.

El Cazador climbs down ▀etaMantis and onto the ground. He takes out his drawing book, and begins sketching the hostile environment, both the immediate and the far.

McGravin: What are you talking about?

▀etaMantis, thinking: What the . . . ? I SWEAR I have heard that voice! Why can I not put a name to it?

▀etaMantis turns to lock his eyes on his target.

What he was is physically represented before his shocked eyes, his extremely thin frame, his clothing, (although torn and shredded), his facial blemishes, EVEN his both highly overused and overcriticised smile were exact copies. Whoever did this did their homework, ▀etaMantis mused.

▀etaMantis: And you shall do what if I do not comply?

It is then he notices the dim red glow from his former persona. The being who threatens them laughs as he pulls out what appears to be some sort of firearm. It glows a dull red, almost the red of his eyes. McGravin manages to get himself over the edge of the cliff, and notes the situation, almost immediately . . . and draws his pistol almost as quickly.

Human Form of ▀etaMantis: You will drop that weapon, and all of yours, if you favour any of your friends.

McGravin: Who is this guy, Beta? He seems a hell of a lot like you . . . the voice even, except . . . he's human.

▀etaMantis, without removing his eyes from what is a perfect duplication of his body, a mere four months ago: I have no short response to give. But I recommend you do as he requests.

McGravin hesitates and grudgingly sets down the gun, his shotgun, and his tau cannon.

Human Form, smirking a smile ▀etaMantis has not seen, nor made, in an age: Excellent. You shall generously bestow possession of that precious item to me. Immediately.

El Cazador, drawing the scene: I was waiting for that.

▀etaMantis, eyeing himself: You want a rusty old simple machine?

Human Form: Of course I do, why would I possibly demand it from you if I didn't?

▀etaMantis: Because it is worthless?

A shocked look washes over McGravin's face.

Human Form, musing: Nice attempt, my friend, however futile. I am aware of what that spring is. I recognise preciousness anywhere.

▀etaMantis: Precious it isn't. Neither is it yours. But, you may have the spring, for I have no other choice.

The spring flies through the air and lands in the left hand of his own image. At least this image has better hand-eye coordination when it comes to something not video game related, ▀etaMantis thinks to himself, slightly amused and unmoving.

His image examines it for a mere minute before he throws the spring into the volcano, frowning.

McGravin: Yes!

▀etaMantis' former self pulls the trigger, a stream of red light streaks from the firearm blindingly. ▀etaMantis, not equipped with any deflecting capabilities, takes the blast in the upper left shoulder, in an attempt to dodge. Pain shoots through ▀etaMantis' body, and he recoils, falling to the ground on his hands and knees. Fresh yellow blood spills on the desecrated rock face. The yellow slime that one obtains from squishing insects is the exact nature of the liquid within his veins and arteries. He is both apalled and amazed at the completeness of his mutation to insecthood.

Form: That was not the desired spring. Know that I know you, and EXPECTED this. I know you have many other springs sported in those pockets as well. If you do not give me the CORRECT spring, I will shoot your friends, one by one, in more vital locations. Then you, not like that matters. I know you will make the nominal decision.

McGravin's spirit falls back to the mortal serious about him as the weapon of the opposing force is aimed at his heart.

Through sheer willpower, ▀etaMantis, wounded in his new form for the first time, manages to rise to his feet. The One Spring of Power, nearly indistinguishable from any other contaminated with rust, flies through the air. The remarkable duplicate's attention focuses on The Spring. This time, ▀etaMantis does not remain still as the spring flies.

His form notices.

Far too late, however, does his form realise the action. As he gets hit in the shoulder with the altered elven warrior wizard, he laughs.

Form: One thing you must've learned in your altered state . . . no fear of physical danger. But you must be joking! *laughs* You think a rubber band can defeat me so easily!?

Voice: No, but it can distract you.

The form whips around to see the fifth member of the group pull the trigger on his PP7. In a scream ▀etaMantis never heard himself utter, the form impacts the rocky ground, bleeding profusely in his upper right arm. The laser weapon clatters to the ground next to him, at the feet of SM_007.

Form: And you are?

SM_007: The name is MacLean . . .

Form, whispers, barely audible: . . . Shawn MacLean

SM_007, taken aback: How did you . . . know my name?

Form: I know more than you could possibly imagine.

He slumps to the ground, as the bullet wound continues to damage his seemingly frail body.

McGravin, grabbing the dying form of ▀etaMantis: Where is the spring? The spring? Where is it!?

Taion: In . . . me.

Taion wriggles himself out from underneath the body. His elastic body thoroughly wraps the spring. McGravin unentangles the polymorphed bladesinger and remarks their prize.

McGravin: We have it! Beta!

▀etaMantis is on his stomach, his appendages splayed in all directions. SM_007 is checking his vital signs and attempting to tend to the wound in his shoulder, still trying to understand what the human attacker had said.

SM_007: He is still alive . . . there is no way I could know the extent of his injuries. I think we should take him to Mu . . .

SM_007 notices a small blue inhaler next to ▀etaMantis. It is labelled Ventolin. He examines this for a moment, then sets it back next to him. SM_007 jumps as a chitinous arm rests itself on a his shoulder.

▀etaMantis, clutching his shoulder with his other right arm: No need, *cough* my friend. My body is healing just fine.

With that, he rises to his feet, slowly. At this point all five are assembled at the rim of the volcano that is Mount Despair, the searing molten solution of minerals bubbling below. McGravin hands ▀etaMantis the spring.

▀etaMantis: And now, *wheeze* to put an end to this madness!

▀etaMantis takes one look at his form, which is struggling to get up, in a pool of red human blood, one he longs to have pumping in his circulatory system again. His blood. His rightful blood. But now, business was far too important for personal issues. He could talk to Whyte at a later time.

The world, the universe, the dimension, the plane of existance, CWAL Prime, and indeed, the multiverse depends on this war. Unfortunately, the group was unaware of this.

▀etaMantis: May the One Spring of Power bring Light to Siberia!

He pitches the object of his image's affection off the cliff and into the heart of the natural furnace. A small plop followed by a short hiss echoes up the round hole of the volcano's centre.

The five look up, and notice that their attacker and his weapon are gone.

It is then the unimaginable happens . . .

--------------------------------------------------------

Aftermath
Part 4

The five stand triumphant, slightly perturbed and some injured or annoyed at the previous tension between a single human with a laser cannon, having finally managed to toss the Spring of Power into Mount Despair.

Taion sits next to ▀etaMantis shouting about how he was flung across part of the lava pit of the volcano, and how dangerous it was.

That he could have almost killed them all. "Why didn't he kill me?", ▀etaMantis thought. He was too good for it? No, 'tis quite simple, he continued to reason to himself. He didn't want the spring thrown in, he recognised preciousness anywhere . . .

Wait, that's it! At NO point did he state the spring was precious! He said he'd KNOW when something WAS! He died for something he never actually STATED was important! Why!? Why DIE so frivously?

Because death means nothing to him.

SM_007 continues to struggle with the quick exchange before the attacker disappeared . . . how did he know my name? And he said "I know more than you could possibly imagine." About what? Me? Operation CWAL? The Spring? What!? If he KNEW so much, how did he die so easily? Why not bring an army?

To scare us away as opposed to kill us?

El Cazador was too absorbed in his incessant and incredible sketching to notice the troubled appearances of the two.

McGravin, still shocked of the change of events, sits at the edge of the cliff, checking his tau cannon again, awaiting for the Spring's effects to take place.

He continues to wait as SM_007 and ▀etaMantis attempt to piece together the mystery separately. Taion realises the futility of scolding an unresponsive ▀etaMantis, and sits next to McGravin. El Cazador signs his name at the bottom left of his picture. Pleased, he closes the book, and sits next to the two searching for some evidence of reaction to the spring.

Taion: Maybe this was the wrong volcano . . . how do we KNOW this is the only one? There are a hundred mountains in Siberia. Since the Shadowlands transformation, how many are volcanos? Why must Mount Despair must be so close to Nighteye's citadel, anyhow? AND, I don't like this onset time.

El Cazador: I could spend a year up here drawing the offensive and hazardous, yet beautiful terrain.

McGravin: It is evil, saturated by it. How can you call evil beautiful?

▀etaMantis continues to think to himself as SM_007 walks up to the other three.

SM_007: Guys, he knew my name.

Trio: What!?

SM_007: I said my name was MacLean, and he finished the line.

Taion: That could be bad.

▀etaMantis, thinking: THAT is the reason it was far from difficult to penetrate the Shadowlands . . . this shadow of my former self, fearing not death, MUST be in league with Nighteye, and he convinced the Hero of Darkness that he could handle us . . . or was Nighteye unconcerned with our intrusion? Again to the fact that this spring idea was a complete farce. The only time farces work are when they . . . are diversions. Adrien will hear from me. But this STILL does not explain my former self. Where did he come from? Why is everyone so hellbent on mutating me, then flaunting a mirror image of my old human self to . . . torture . . . me. No . . . too simple. Maybe to deter me from carrying on, but I did nonetheless. I just don't get it. I am missing a large piece of this puzzle.

▀etaMantis finally realises the other four are glaring at him.

McGravin: Are you going to answer the man's question?

▀etaMantis: Which was . . . ?

SM_007: Can we leave this place now? Even though the spring has failed to do anything important, I would not hesitate an oppourtunity to leave at the soonest possible time.

▀etaMantis: Agreed. To your private jet, Mr. 007.

The five make their way to the jet in about eighteen hours, taking the long way about Nighteye's citadel. The five take off, and head back to Irvine.

▀etaMantis, still consumed in his attempts to wrap his head around the mysterious appearance of nothing short of himself, sits in silence. The others express their disappointment in the mission's apparent uselessness, and minor annoyance in ▀etaMantis for leading them on a wild goose chase. They thought it a good experience, however.

Taion: I still can't believe he led us on this goose chase. Did he know? I tell you, those COTSers, always have a trick up their sleeve. I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

El Cazador: You assume too much. He is merely pondering the implications of the last encounter more deeply than we. Give him some credit.

McGravin: I cannot comprehend how fast he healed. He was hit with an ENERGY blast! No HUMAN could've survived that!

SM_007: Precisely.

As the utter evil of the Shadowlands drift from sight, they all learned respect for that land, its denizens, and its secrets, some of which would be soon be made known to the defenders of the realm that is CWAL Prime.